Oh, shoegaze. It promises so much and yet so many bands fail to deliver. There’s a handful of Slowdives and Kevin Shieldses in the world sincerely interested in the compositional properties of volume and harmonic distortion. They’re outnumbered by the dimly lit crowd of reverb jocks ahh-ing wordlessly over the same one chord miasma. It’s the music of gear worship. Ideally, it opens the potential of loud, dreamy psychedelia beyond classic rock-style riffing. More often than not, it’s a chance for eBay hounds to show off what their new rigs can do.
DC’s Dangerosa understands this well. They live and breathe shoegaze, and they know that it works best when the acoustic space is treated like another band member. They tracked their new album, “Massif,” in a church to allow the sounds to blend, refract, and form incidental melodies. Unfortunately, the results of this are a mixed blessing (pun intended). At times the recording feels like a distant wash, to the point of drowning out the band’s most characteristic element, vocalist Avé Luke-Simpson. Her long notes and emotive vibrato are an enlivening addition, and it’s a shame just how often she’s lost behind cymbals and flanging guitars.
Dangerosa have a refreshingly thoughtful approach to shoegaze and they sound like they put on a killer show. You have “Massif” to tide you over until your next chance to see them live.
Princess Reason are a perpetually heartbroken indie pop band from College Park. They record hushed love songs that rarely break the minute and a half mark. They’re sung with warbly vocals and cut off suddenly, as if they’re secret messages tracked in rare moments of privacy. Singer Jack Stansbury coyly mumbles the lyrics, which fluctuate between bursts of raw feeling and their awkward aftermath. All in all, it’s music that excels at creating a very specific setting of youthful longing and melodrama.
Princess Reason’s new cassette, the “Always Pretty” EP, delivers 4 songs in under 10 minutes. It’s enjoyable and it showcases the germ of a good idea. The band works well together and there’s no uncharacteristic moments. The problem is there aren’t a whole lot of moments, period. The release comes on strong and retreats away immediately, cursing its stupid hormones. Perhaps that’s the whole point, but personally I’d have liked to hear more.
"Always Pretty" is available now from Tricot Records. I checked the delivery methods, but unfortunately, they don’t include an option where a shy boy sticks the tape in your pocket while hiding his eyes under a hoodie.
For those of you unfamiliar with MacGregor Burns, I’ll summarize the experience. Mac is based in Baltimore, but he travels the country with a dog named Sylvie and a guitar he got from a thrift store. He mostly plays living rooms. Those are the static elements, everything else is up to chance. I’ve seen him do sets of absurdist comedy, I’ve seen him drop trou to win over an unkind audience, I’ve seen him rope in local musician friends for singalong jams, and I’ve seen him make it all work. Every now and then, he lowers his guard enough to play a song and that’s when things get interesting.
For all the jokes and nonsense banter, Mac’s music is grounded and harsh. His blues-like guitar lines are stark and operate on their own broken sense of groove. His lyrics veer into yelping and howling with no clear logic, and the words that come through are dark. Sometimes his eyes are shut tight as if in a trance, sometimes they’re wide open and he stares down everybody in front of him. Then he stops playing, the spell is broken, and his guitar becomes an oar as he pantomimes being in a rowboat.
Mac’s new album is called “Chill Sade.” It’s more fleshed out than his previous works, but only ever so slightly with light keyboard tones and sparse drum machine beats. The results are interesting, if somewhat mixed. Some of the tracks come off awkward as Mac can’t quite catch up to the beat. But many of the new songs are warmer than ever and successfully fuse the two halves of MacGregor’s personality. “That Woolly Moon,” for instance, has an optimistic sing-along vibe, while “The Wild Frontier” maximizes the new setup across a three part epic.
"Chill Sade" is uneven overall, but it’s the kind of experiment I love to hear. MacGregor Burns pushes himself to write in a new format, investigate new subjects, and be more than another brilliant performer that falls short on record. It’s a wandering, frequently brilliant journal entry of an album from a man that spends most of his life on the road.
"Brothers Kardell’s sounds on SoundCloud" by Brothers Kardell
I’m going to confess something right now. It might discredit me completely, but it’s been gnawing at my soul for some time and I need to get it out there. I… have a music degree. Please understand, I mean no harm. I thought it was a natural thing to do - I love music, ergo, I should go to school for it. I found out that one does NOT study music if they want to work with music, much like future lawyers don’t begin as paralegals. The music school mindset is one of a monastic adherence to Doing Things Right. Smooth and tight are the orders of the day. Want to rock the boat? Try writing a progression in fourths. It’s a dream background for future accountants. As far as getting people’s attention goes, you’re better off at the psychology building.
Except sometimes it works in the opposite way. Every now and again a couple of weirdos slip into the classically-trained diamond factory. They come out with impeccable ears, clinical technique, and a healthy disrespect for stylistic rigidity. Our local example are the Brothers Kardell, a couple of Peabody Institute brats and IRL brothers writing rhythmic etudes based on everything they ever heard. Their music blurs the lines between sheer brilliance and sheer trolling. Soaring contrapuntal melodies crash into samples chopped and jackhammered beyond recognition. Dad rock guitars flail for respect over farty synth parties. Anyone can upset a yoga class with Skrillex breaks, but few would do it in compound meters.
Their stuff is calculated to get under your skin and dare you to keep listening in a way I haven’t heard since that Unicorns album 10 years ago. It’s ingenious and infectious and wild, so wild that it exists only in the outer frontiers of SoundCloud. But I feel so strongly about the Super Kardellio Bros. that I’m going to write them up anyway. 27 big smirking, caffeine stained teeth. Our first perfect score. Congratulations, boys!
"Beautiful, Peaceful, Ghosts" EP by the Escape Artist
DC cranial rock quartet The Escape Artist went through a watershed moment a couple of years ago. After spending the better part of a decade playing algebraic post-hardcore, they took a brief hiatus. They rested. They got married and had kids. Then they reemerged as a calmer and, dare I say, more carefree sort of band. The cragged melodies spread out into rolling hills, the clamorous music became as urgent as a stargazing session on a summer night. The band that once spotlighted the difficult and uncomfortable seems to have achieved sincere, cosmic peace with themselves.
The Escape Artist’s new EP in this style is called “Beautiful, Peaceful, Ghosts.” Like its name implies, these 4 songs are gentle and focused on setting a mood. The long notes glide through sparkling reverb, while the vocals are whispered as often as they’re sung. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the level of innovation at work. When the band slowly constructs and dissolves echoes on “Eta Carinae” or creates cathedrals of sound on the title track, they’re firmly comfortable in their new skins and achieving something advanced and novel. They’re still challenging their listeners, albeit in a more patient way. The payoff is worth it.
In honor of our 21st review (and because everybody thinks our Twitter account is a spambot), we’ve made an official Facebook page. Please check it out and maybe even give us a “like” (but only if you really want to).
Sun Club are a self described indie pop band from Annapolis. Jury’s out on whether that’s a deliberate misnomer or a vague guiding ideal. They’re indie pop to the extent that they’re an independent band playing catchy music, but heart-on-sleeve sighing this is not. Sun Club are closer in sound to the post-hardcore cabaret of the Blood Brothers, or the abstract island music of Maps and Atlases. They’re one of those big-hearted bands that keep their ears open to anything, and want to express everything they hear in the context of loud, maniacal rock.
That’s not to say that these guys are spastic. Their recent self-titled album is wisely arranged around the high energy rushes and the quick breathers. There’s an odd swing to the rhythms, which gives the songs a loose party vibe. That makes the band’s more subtle elements that much more powerful. When they stop on a dime or launch into a heavy, noisy breakdown, it’s completely unexpected. Bizarre song titles like “Weak Friend Winter Club” and “Sand is Overrated” only add to the experience, because really, who listens to this kind of stuff for the lyrics? Sun Club are a disorienting kind of fun with serious musical chops. Check ‘em out.
"Wish It Stopped" split by Infinity Crush and Abi Reimold
Infinity Crush and Abi Reimold are two bedroom folk artists from Philadelphia with a new split cassette called “Wish It Stopped.” Their common traits are their lovely voices and deeply melancholy music. Both artists have a tendency toward mysterious, oblong ballads, but they distinguish themselves with Infinity Crush preferring bare intimacy to Reimold’s worldly song cycles. They complement each other well on a release exploring ritualized loneliness and supernatural desolation.
Infinity Crush is the more immediate of the two, with concise songs and desperate lyrics that read like diary entries or unsent letters. Howls and gasps punctuate the vocals for a haunting effect that makes the songs seem like ghostly transmissions from another time and place. In contrast, Reimold’s pieces are long explorations similar to Tim Buckley’s “Lorca.” Her contributions are less driven by lyrics and melodies and more by unique compositional elements, such as structures built around tempo and volume. Both acts explore dark emotional centers with thrilling creativity, two things I value a great deal that made “Wish It Stopped” an addictive listen for me.
Thirteen Towers are a ska band from NoVA. Their debut release, though, is all punk. But live, they’re a ska band… except when the horn section can’t make it, in which case they play punk. I razz because I love. Thirteen Towers have one of those scrappy stories of perseverence and prolific Craigslisting that I live to promote here at 27teethdc. What began as a desire to make immediate, anthemic music went through 6 years of development hell with all its earnestness intact. Thirteen Towers finally released their debut, appropriately titled, “We Don’t Care.” It’s filled with high 90s pop punk, which they try to perform with horns whenever they can. If that’s too confusing for you, please consult the name of the EP.
On record, the band specializes in the energetic, vaguely theatrical sounds dormant since the days of Phantasmagoria. The songs are fast, but overwhelmingly tuneful. They’re crammed with all the melodies and musical transitions that three and a half minutes can carry, including a few much appreciated Matt Freeman-style bass solos. The lyrics are the blend of suburban boredom mixed with hold-nothing-back honesty that once put this music in the backdrop of an era. It all takes me back to Saturday nights spent on hold with Capital Radio trying to get them to play more Ten Foot Pole. Thirteen Towers are cool enough to post the “We Don’t Care” EP as a free download, so go check it out at http://thirteentowers.com/.
Leonard Friend (a.k.a. Alex Feder, a.k.a. 1st chair Enrique Iglesias stunt guitarist) wants you to know that he loves pop. I mean, REALLY. loves. pop. I mean, he nearly lost it after Whitney died. I mean, he has vivid heterosexual fantasies while listening to Annie Lennox. He dreams of posthumously trending on Twitter, re-releasing his greatest hits, and coming back as a hologram. He also has expert skills with synthesizers and falsetto vocals, and he knows his way around a new jack swing beat like a wizened old record collector. His LXLF EP approaches Kanye West levels of geekdom over and desperation for the pop star lifestyle. Leonard Friend doesn’t mince words, he loves music, fame, Gatorade, sex, and Tylenol, in that order.
And why shouldn’t he? Pop has never been and never should be for the uptight. It’s a style best experienced by the reptilian parts of the brain deep within a club-induced haze. It should be salacious and unambiguous enough to incite outrage by churches and politicians. Musicality is a nice afterthought though, and fortunately. Mr. Friend delivers plenty of that. The accompaniment is overloaded with just as many details and allusions as the lyrics, whether it’s retro-futurism, Babyface-style funk, or rock/R&B hybrids borrowed from Pharrell Williams. It’s a little odd to see stuff so simultaneously brainy and unabashed, but whatever, there’s nothing to hide here but quality songs. Leonard Friend exists to make us all a little more at ease with ourselves.